TED Conversations

Kathy Castle

Ph.D. Student and Course Director- Business and Professional Com,

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What would it take for you to be willing to be changed by your interaction with another?

I study communication and how it shapes our reality. Communication is very often thought of as the process by which we articulate our thoughts and ideas--and the more clearly we do that, the more effective our communication is. This, however, is not communication as I study it...it is imposition. Communication is the negotiation of a shared meaning. Dialogue is a form of communication to which we should all aspire, requiring communicators to seek to create meaning with each interaction. This process requires individuals to evaluate their own social positioning and the power that it does or does not afford them and to evaluate the social positioning of the other communicator and the power that it does or does not afford them in the interaction. Next, the communicators seek to create meaning through interaction by allowing themselves to be impacted and changed by the other person's perspective rather than impose their preconceived ideas in the interaction. In short, dialogue challenges us to question power structures and privilege the emergence of meaning that reflects all perspectives rather than perpetuating existing systems of power.

This type of communication has the potential to create space for marginalized voices in discussions---voices that must be heard in order to allow us to have a discussion that encompasses the needs, priorities and concerns of all of our global citizens. Importantly, dialogue would allow us to hear this from everyone's unique perspectives rather than casting all thoughts and ideas into a more dominant frame that ultimately subordinates specific positions. Dialogue is the vehicle through which all voices have the potential to be heard--but it is a responsibility that we share and that we don't often acknowledge. Those with more power in the dominant framework have a responsibility to create space for all voices rather than privileging voices like theirs.

Given the potential for dialogue, what would it take for us to engage it?


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    Feb 20 2012: Mary,
    Thanks for your comments! Humility and recognition of that which we don't know is a huge part of dialogue--it's a great place to start. We do need to recognize that we don't have all the answers, but more than that, we need to recognize that the goal is not to find answers so much as to explore possibilities in our interactions with others--possibilities that can open up room for difference and go beyond tolerating it to valuing it for what it contributes to meaning making. It's a recognition that not only are we not in control of the meaning that emerges, we don't wish to be in control--as that would hinder the process of dialogue and its benefits. That's the scary part for a lot of people--the acceptance of an absence of control over the message that emerges from the interaction.

    So yes, it does take humility and a recognition of our limited understanding...that's an essential and difficult first step. An even more difficult step in this process is possessing a willingness to critically consider the power inherent in the positions of each communicator--and then challenge that so that all voices are heard and can impact the creation of meaning in authentic ways that serve no over-arching perspective, but that are free to develop independent of the dominant cultural perspective. This is the step that I see as the biggest stumbling block in this process, as it impacts and is impacted by the socio-historical and cultural contexts in which the communication occurs.

    I wonder, then, how our ability to do as you suggest is impacted by these contexts...and how we might challenge them so as to create more space for dialogue?

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